Some travelers feel a bit overwhelmed by the traffic and chaos of Bangkok, but there’s something special about the energy that characterizes this busy city. Bangkok is kind of a love-it-or-hate-it affair, and that’s where I come in.
My own Southeast Asia backpacking adventure kicked off in the vibrant streets of Bangkok. Fast forward a couple of years, and now I live part-time in Thailand!
This Bangkok travel guide is here to give you insider tips so that you can navigate the city like a local. Whether you want to embrace the city’s exciting energy or find an oasis of calm in the urban jungle, I’ve got you covered.
Plan your trip to Bangkok
Bangkok Travel: What to Expect
In Bangkok, you’ll eat the most delicious street food, shop at endless markets, and experience the vibrant nightlife.
But what really makes Bangkok stand out is its unique blend of ancient tradition and modernization. Bangkok is a city of contrasts, and it’s truly a must-visit destination for any traveler.
Bangkok is a city where luxury hotels rub shoulders with budget hostels. Where you can pay respects at grand temples like Wat Arun and Wat Pho one moment, then sip on cocktails at trendy bars the next.
Despite its reputation for traffic jams and overcrowded streets (it can take 20 minutes to go a few blocks in a car), Bangkok has a charm that draws millions of visitors every year. It’s easy to get lost in the chaos of this city, but that’s part of the fun.
Recommended tours in Bangkok
While you can explore Bangkok independently, certain experiences are better on a tour. Here are our top picks:
How Long to Stay in Bangkok
There’s no one-size-fits-all for how many days to spend in Bangkok. But let’s break it down a bit.
If your trip to Thailand is on the shorter side, say about a week or so, spending 1-2 days in the city should give you enough time to soak in some of the must-sees and get that essential Bangkok vibe.
But, if you’re fortunate enough to have more time on your hands, consider staying for 3-4 days. This will allow you to check out the top sights, immerse yourself in the buzzing nightlife, and aimlessly amble around its vibrant neighborhoods (my favorite part of being in a city!).
Bangkok can also be your launchpad for numerous day trips if you fancy exploring further afield. I really enjoyed the ancient city of Ayutthaya, an easy train ride away from Bangkok.
Once you’ve had your fill of this dynamic city, many travelers jet off northwards towards Chiang Mai or set course south for the idyllic islands.
Arriving in Bangkok
There are two airports: Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang. Both are well connected to the city center, but Suvarnabhumi is notably easier to reach via public transportation.
Bangkok’s SkyTrain (BTS) and the subway (MRT) networks are impressive, offering speedy connections to key attractions across the city.
If you’re not ready to navigate public transportation as soon as you land, take a taxi to your accommodation instead.
Suvarnabhumi has user-friendly touchscreen kiosks waiting to assist in your journey. With a few taps on the screen, these machines print out a handy slip indicating which parking spot your driver is stationed at.
Bangkok airport taxis charge an additional 50 baht fee on top of your fare for their convenience. And if your driver opts for the expressway, be prepared for an extra toll between 75-100 baht.
Watch Out for Scams
While Thailand is considered extremely safe for tourists, scams targeting unsuspecting travelers are common.
If you take a local taxi, ensure they have a functioning meter that’s turned on as soon as the ride starts. You can politely ask for the meter before you get in and decline the ride if they don’t want to use it.
Don’t want any hassle? Get an airport pickup!
Navigating Bangkok while jetlagged can be a pain. The easiest way is to pre-booking a private transfer from Suvarnabhumi Airport directly to your hotel.
I’ve heard stories about meters being tampered with so that the fare increases rapidly for tourists who don’t know any better, so keep an eye on it. Honestly, I usually just use the Grab rideshare app (it’s the Southeast Asia version of Uber).
Grab taxis are affordable and reliable, though prone to getting stuck in Bangkok’s notorious traffic. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can order a Grab motorbike instead of a car. The local drivers will impress (or terrify) you with how easily they navigate the traffic!
Tuk-tuks, an iconic part of Thai culture, are known for overcharging tourists or detouring unwanted destinations. But, they’re fun! Just be sure to negotiate the price before getting in.
Be wary of locals peddling gemstones or taxis claiming popular attractions are closed – both are common scams.
Top Things to Do in Bangkok, Thailand
Bangkok can be a bit of a whirlwind for newcomers, especially if you’ve just stepped off a long-haul flight and are still getting to grips with the time difference.
Here’s the secret to a successful visit to Bangkok: Take it easy!
Don’t feel compelled to dive headfirst into every temple, market, or street food stall in sight – not immediately. Ease into it, and leave time for wandering.
Experiencing chaotic Bangkok
First on the list is Khao San Road, often touted as backpackers’ hub. It’s famous for cheap food, cheap drinks, and cheap knockoffs.
Honestly, Khao San Road has changed a lot over the years. Once known for being off-the-beaten-path, it has become a more sanitized and commercialized version of itself. However, it still draws in crowds of travelers looking for a budget-friendly experience.
The floating markets are also interesting and offer a glimpse into local life and the traditional way of buying and selling goods. You can find everything from fresh produce to souvenirs here. Damnoen Saduak, about 100km from town, is Bangkok’s most famous floating market. Amphawa and Taling Chan are also popular.
Speaking of markets, Chatuchak Weekend Market is a must-visit for any shopaholic. With thousands and thousands of stalls selling everything from clothing to home decor, it’s easy to spend a whole day wandering through the maze-like market.
I’d rarely recommend travelers to visit a modern shopping mall abroad, but Bangkok’s malls are a different experience. Siam Paragon, Central World, Siam Discovery, and MBK are worth checking out – plus, they have air-conditioning!
Chinatown in Bangkok, also known as Yaowarat, is another must-see destination brimming with action and good food. When night falls, it transforms into a vibrant hub of street food vendors offering an array of mouth-watering delicacies. Think grilled satay skewers, fragrant noodle soups, and tropical fruit desserts – a true foodie paradise!
For those seeking a more adrenaline-fueled experience, attending a Muay Thai match is an absolute must. Known as the “art of eight limbs”, this traditional combat sport is deeply ingrained in Thai culture. Head to venues like Rajadamnern Stadium or Lumpinee Boxing Stadium, where you can witness firsthand the power and agility of these fighters.
I didn’t think I’d enjoy watching Muay Thai, but it was actually so much fun!
Another fun way to spend your evening is at one of Bangkok’s famous Ladyboy Cabaret shows. These performances, featuring beautiful and talented transgender performers, are a unique blend of comedy, music, dancing, and extravagant costumes. Catch a show at Calypso Cabaret or Tiffany’s Show for a night you won’t soon forget.
Beating the tourist crowds
The Grand Palace, Wat Pho, and Wat Arun are undoubtedly the crown jewels of Bangkok.
The only caveat is that these popular tourist attractions can get crowded during peak hours, so use your jetlag to your advantage and arrive early in the day when temperatures are cooler and crowds are smaller.
Begin your journey at the Grand Palace, the former residence of Thai kings and currently used for royal ceremonies. This sprawling complex perfectly represents traditional Thai architecture, with intricate details and colorful designs on every building.
From there, take a short walk to Wat Pho, the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. This magnificent temple is home to a 46-meter-long reclining Buddha statue covered in gold leaf. But Wat Pho is more than just a tourist attraction, it’s also an active center for traditional Thai massage and medicine. You can even book a massage here to relax and rejuvenate after a day of sightseeing.
Afterward, hop on a boat and cruise along the Chao Phraya River, known as the “River of Kings.” This scenic waterway will take you past bustling markets, ancient temples, and towering skyscrapers.
Stop at Wat Arun, or the Temple of Dawn, to climb up the steep steps of this 17th-century temple for breathtaking views of the city. You may also take this tour which stops at Wat Traimit, Wat Pho, and Wat Arun.
Wat Arun at sunset is spectacular!
See the quieter side of Bangkok
Escaping the madness of Bangkok isn’t as hard as it might seem.
Lumpini Park, fondly known as Bangkok’s Central Park, is a serene oasis with lush greenery, a tranquil lake, and various outdoor activities. You can rent swan boats to paddle around and enjoy the peaceful surroundings.
One of my favorite things to do in Bangkok is the long-tail boat ride through the city’s many canals. This offers a unique perspective of the city and allows you to see parts you wouldn’t normally experience.
This small-group bicycle tour passes through quiet places like Benjakiti Park, Sri Nakhon Khuean Khan Park, botanical gardens, and local places where many tourists never go.
If you want to be one with nature without venturing too far, head to Phrapadaeng, the “green lungs” of Bangkok.
This forested peninsula remains surprisingly untouched by city development. Cycling paths wind through dense mangrove forests, quaint stilt houses dot the landscape, and the Chao Phraya River encircles it all like a protective moat.
As you breathe in the fresh air amidst the sound of chirping birds and rustling leaves, you’ll find it hard to believe that you’re still within city limits.
If you’re looking to treat yourself, Bangkok is the perfect place to try your first Thai massage! Thai massage is a unique combination of acupressure, yoga, and stretching. It’s done on a mat on the floor, with the therapist using hands, elbows, knees, and feet to apply pressure and stretch muscles. They’re a bit too intense for my liking – I’ll stick to foot massages.
Sometimes finding tranquility is as simple as ascending to one of the city’s many rooftop bars. There’s no shortage of them, so you’ll have no problem finding one by yourself. They tend to be a little pricey and often have loud music playing. But the city views!
One unique rooftop bar worth checking out at sunset is the Rooftop Bar at Sala Rattanakosin. It has a stunning view of the river and Wat Arun temple which lights up at night.
You can also head out of the city altogether. Ayutthaya is an ancient capital city just an hour outside of Bangkok, filled with beautiful temples and ruins perfect for exploring and learning about Thailand’s rich history. Some of my favorite temple photos came from here.
Capture the culinary highlights
Navigating Bangkok’s vibrant food scene is always a fun adventure whether it’s your first time or your hundredth time in Thailand. The city is a culinary wonderland, with some of the best street food in the world, plus fine dining options if that’s more your speed.
Embrace the local dining customs by sharing multiple dishes with your companions – it’s a great way to sample the array of flavors Thai cuisine has to offer.
Don’t panic if you’re not well-versed in Thai – most places are accustomed to tourists and usually have an English version of the menu available. I sometimes just point at someone else’s plate that looks good and that works too.
Unless you’re eating noodles, Thais typically use a fork and a spoon for their meals – so no need to worry about mastering chopsticks just yet!
My favorite way to get to know a new city is to take a food tour. Not only do you get a chance to try some of the best local dishes, but you also get to learn about the history and culture behind them. Cooking classes are also a fun and interactive way to learn about Thai cuisine.
Must-Try Thai Dishes in Bangkok
Tom YumOne of the most well-known Thai dishes is Pad Thai – stir-fried rice noodles with eggs, tofu, shrimp, bean sprouts, and peanuts. It’s a great introduction to Thai cuisine for those who are new to it, and you’ll find it all over.
Another must-try dish is Tom Yum Soup – a spicy and sour soup filled with fragrant herbs and seafood or chicken.
Next is Pla Rad Prik, a Bangkok specialty. This dish features fried mackerel luxuriously draped in sweet and sour sauce.
Don’t miss out on Gaeng Daeng, better known as red curry. Made with aromatic herbs, coconut milk, and meat – often chicken or beef – this sumptuous dish carries a spice level that is just right.
For those seeking comfort food, Khao Pad is the Thai version of fried rice that can be served with various ingredients such as shrimp, crab, chicken, or pork.
Then there’s Massaman Curry – a blend of Indian and Malay influences resulting in a richly spiced yet sweet curry. Typically made with meat (often beef), potatoes, and peanuts, it’s a hearty dish you’ll love.
Tom Yum soup… very yum indeed!
Som Tum or green papaya salad offers a refreshing contrast to other heavier dishes. Crunchy unripe papaya slivers are mixed with tomatoes, long beans, chili, and lime juice along with fish sauce giving it an addictive spicy-sour punch. I always ask for just 1 chili as 2 or 3 chili that sets my mouth on fire.
Moo Satay is another crowd-pleaser – think succulent skewers of marinated grilled pork served with a delightful peanut dipping sauce. These skewers are perfectly cooked and full of flavor.
When you’re ready to eat, head to Yarowat Road in Chinatown – it really comes alive at nightfall. The wok-manship here is phenomenal – street vendors masterfully whip up all sorts of delectable dishes right before your eyes.
One of the best places to eat here is Guay Jub Ouan Pochana – they’ve been making irresistible guay jub noodles for half a century.
If you are a food enthusiast, a visit to the renowned street stall, Raan Jay Fai in the Phra Nakhon district, is famous for its signature crab omelet and drunken noodles – dishes so exquisite that they earned the vendor a prestigious Michelin Star.
The sight of Jay Fai herself, donning her iconic goggles as she masterfully stirs and flips ingredients over roaring flames, has become almost as legendary as her culinary creations. Expect a long line at this stall.
And if you’re looking to have a little fun, look out for vendors serving up fried insects like Scorpion-on-a-stick. You’ll see these at popular tourist night markets like Khao Son Road. It will make a great photo!
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Posted FEB 12, 2024